What does financial independence mean to you? For retired Navy Commander Bob Chambers, it means “spending time with family and friends and having a predictable, life-long income that provides a comfortable lifestyle.”
Commander Chambers retired before he turned 50, putting him among a small, but growing, group of super-savers achieving what’s called “FIRE” (financial independence and retire early). Early on, Chambers knew he wanted to attain financial independence, enjoy a comfortable lifestyle and leave a legacy for future generations. (Learn how he did it in his booklet “Financial Independence Made Easy,” available as a free download.)
Financial independence can be defined as being able to handle whatever challenges life throws at you. Yet how many of us have this kind of true financial independence? Only 52 percent of those asked in a recent Bankrate Financial Security Index survey have more money in emergency savings than in credit card debt, and 24 percent have more credit card debt than emergency savings. A recent report by the World Economic Forum calls retirement savings a “global retirement time bomb,” with Americans facing the largest gap between what they'll need and what they've saved. The collective shortfall hit $28 trillion in 2015 and is expected to rise to $137 trillion in 2050. It’s clear to me that Americans need a financial revolution in 2017 as surely as we needed a political revolution in 1776.
Our system of earning, saving and investing money is simply broken. It relies way too heavily on the tag team of government and mega-banks and financial institutions, and way too little on the self-reliance and individualism that made our nation great. Wall Street and other peddlers of financial snake oil have spent fortunes in the effort to convince ordinary, hard-working Americans to place our trust and our financial futures in their hands. Will we never learn?
Market crash after market crash, investment bubble followed by investment burst, our money enjoys no rest from the seesaw, stomach-wrenching ups and downs that result from following the advice of these so-called experts. Not only do tens of millions of us frequently get jarred from our trance-like state to discover we’ve lost a huge chunk of our nest eggs just when we need our money most, but if we look carefully, we also realize that our advisors and money managers have walked off with a sizeable portion of our assets, masked behind the fine print of fees and expenses. The crumbs our advisors leave for us -- if they leave any at all -- are then subject to additional taxes from our good friends in the U.S. government.
Taken together, the abuses of government and private financial institutions may not rise to the level of misdeeds that our forefathers suffered at the hands of their British overlords. But they do suggest the need for all right-thinking Americans to free themselves -- as much as humanly possible-- from the tyrannies of today’s financial despots.
Declaring our financial independence.
So, in the spirit of Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, John Hancock, Benjamin Franklin and other revolutionary thinkers, I’d like to propose this "Declaration of Financial Independence:"
"We are free and independent citizens who love our country and honor our duty to live in a lawful and responsible manner. However in the course of events it has become necessary for us to dissolve the financial bonds which have therefore led us to rely upon the goodwill and good offices of government and private financial custodians to provide for our financial security, growth and wellbeing.
"We mutually pledge to each other our commitment to remain true to these self-evident principles of financial independence:
"That we will be the stewards of our own financial affairs, including the establishment of accounts and our own systems to safely serve us throughout our lives, including times of ill-health and in retirement.
"That we will resist and rebuff those who preach that risk and volatility are necessary to create wealth and achieve financial growth.
"That we will not be taken in by Wall Street promoters and other button-down hucksters who profit regardless of their performance and often impose well-disguised fees and expenses to lard their pockets.
"That we will make financial literacy a lifelong priority, confident in the belief that no worthwhile financial topic is too complex or too difficult for average citizens to understand, despite the frequent assertions of those who would have us believe otherwise. To be financially independent requires us to become and stay informed.
"That we will work within our communities and at the polls to encourage others to embrace their own financial independence and to live under laws and regulations that allow all Americans to stand squarely on their own two feet in all financial matters."
Declaring our financial independence is an act of patriotism and very much in keeping with the spirit and intent of our forefathers, who gave their lives, fortunes and sacred honor to secure our liberties -- including the freedom to direct our own finances and embrace the principles of self-reliance.
The torch has been passed. It’s our turn now to act with confidence and courage.